New Mexico prosecutors are expected to file criminal charges early this week in Alec Baldwin’s fatal accidental shooting of a cinematographer on the set of “Rust,” a low-budget western.
Baldwin, the star of the film, was rehearsing a scene in an old log church on a ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Halena Hutchins, cinematographer, and Joel Souza, director. Hutchins, who was in charge of the photography, wanted to line up the camera angle to capture Baldwin slowly pulling his prop pistol—a replica of a vintage Colt .45—from its leather holster and pointing it at the camera.
The gun went off, firing a shot that penetrated Hutchins’ chest, then lodged in Sousa’s shoulder. Hutchins died that afternoon. Sousa recovered from his injury.
Despite Hollywood film protocols forbidding live rounds on movie sets, Santa Fe County Sheriff’s investigators found several actual bullets mixed with “mock rounds” used by film producers to simulate the appearance of real ballistics.
Baldwin admits to pulling the gun’s hammer, but says he did not pull the trigger.
“There is someone responsible…but I know it’s not me,” Baldwin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in a December 2021 television interview.
However, some legal experts said they expected Baldwin to be among the defendants.
Santa Fe County Sheriff’s deputies spent nearly a year gathering evidence, which they turned over to Mary Carmack-Altois, the District Attorney for New Mexico’s 1st Judicial District.
In August, Carmack-Altoys revealed that it was considering charging up to four people, including Baldwin. Sources told The Times that prosecutors focused on individuals who handled the gun that day, the so-called “chain of custody.”
Here’s what you should know about this case.
What is the theme of the movie “Rust”?
“Rust” begins as the story of a 13-year-old in 1880s Kansas who accidentally shoots and kills a local farmer. The boy’s grandfather—an outlaw named Harland Rost, played by Baldwin—helps him escape from prison and they set off on a perilous journey across New Mexico while being pursued by the U.S. Marshal and bounty hunter. Souza wrote the screenplay with input from Baldwin, who received a “story by” credit.
The 64-year-old actor was also a producer on the low-budget movie, which was shot at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a popular movie location south of Santa Fe.
Who is Helena Hutchins?
The cinematographer, also known as the director of photography, was Hutchins, who was born in Ukraine. She grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle “surrounded by reindeer and nuclear submarines,” according to the biography on her personal website. She earned a degree from Kyiv National University in Ukraine and worked as an investigative journalist in British documentary productions before heading to Los Angeles.
The 42-year-old mother has been succeeding in a largely male-dominated business. She was a 2015 graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory and was named one of the 2019 Rising Stars of American Film Directors. She has worked on independent features like ‘Archenemy’, ‘Blindfire’ and ‘The Mad Hatter’ as well as short films and commercials. “Rust” was her first collaboration with Baldwin. She is survived by her husband, Matthew Hutchins. Young son Andros and family members in Ukraine.
Her death became a rallying cry across the industry for more safety measures on movie sets.
Were there problems before shooting?
The Times previously reported on the problems that began before the filmmakers arrived at Bonanza Creek Ranch in early October 2021.
Production managers struggled to recruit experienced crew members. Veteran prop master Neil W. Zoromsky, who turned down a position on “Rust” in late September 2021, told The Times he was upset about the producers’ refusal to hire a fully staffed props department, including an armorer to handle the guns and another person as a props assistant. Instead, the producers insisted that one person fill both positions. Approximately a dozen experienced masters or armourers refused a job in ‘rust’.
Most of the camera crew chose to stop production the night before shooting due to safety concerns and a lack of housing near Santa Fe. Days before shooting, the camera crew leader texted the production manager to complain about the accidental discharge of the weapon. “This is very unsafe,” Len Looper wrote in an October 16, 2021 text message to the unit’s production manager.
Who was the maker of the movie’s weapons?
Production managers hired 24-year-old Hana Gutierrez Reid to supervise all of the weapons and ballistics and also serve as a props assistant. Gutierrez Reed, who lives in Arizona, is the daughter of famous Hollywood gunsmith Thel Reed. She grew up visiting Hollywood sets and this was her second job as a head stylist. The first of these was Nicolas Cage’s The Old Way, which was shot in 2021.
Gutierrez Reed complained that he was under too much pressure to “rust,” according to emails with production executives. A week before shooting, the film’s line producer, Gabrielle Bickle, rebuked Gutierrez Reid in an email, saying complaints had been made about guns left unattended on set. Bickle also berated Gutierrez Reed for not doing enough to support the film’s prop master.
According to production call pages seen by The Times, the guns were needed in 10 of the 12 days for the film, with multiple guns used daily.
Gutierrez Reid admitted that she loaded the guns that day. She handed the fired weapon to sheriff’s deputies who arrived at Bonanza Creek Ranch after the shooting.
She later told sheriff detectives that although she checked Baldwin’s gun that day before the unscheduled exercise, she “didn’t check much after lunch” because the gun was locked in a safe during the crew’s lunch break.
Who was the assistant director?
Veteran director David Holes was the first assistant director on “Rust,” making him the on-site safety coordinator.
He reportedly handed the loaded weapon over to Baldwin. According to an affidavit from a sheriff’s deputy with a search warrant, after the crew returned from lunch that day, Halls took possession of one of the three “propaganda guns” prepared by Amorer (Hannah Guttierez), which was on a wagon “parked outside the log church.” Halls took the gun inside the church. As he was “handing the gun to actor Alec Baldwin, he (Dave Holz) yelled “cold gun,” indicating that the gun did not have any live ammunition in it, according to the affidavit.
Holz told the deputies he was not aware the weapon contained live ammunition.
An industry veteran with credits dating back to the early 1990s, Halls has worked on films such as “Balls of Fury,” “A Prairie Home Companion,” “Bad Santa,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” and “Fargo.” In a dark coincidence, he served as a first assistant director on the second unit of the 2000 film “The Crow: Salvation,” the sequel to “The Crow,” in which Brandon Lee died in a shooting accident in 1993.
In a lawsuit filed late last year, Holz said he was “in no way responsible for the events and facts” on the Rust set that day, instead blaming the gunsmith, prop master and supplier of the guns and ammunition.
Why were there live bullets on set?
Still an important unanswered question is how live bullets got on the set. Film producers do not typically use live bullets to simulate gunfire, but court documents in the case reflect the recovery of dozens of live shots mixed with the film’s supply of dummy bullets and blanks.
Neither Sheriff’s nor the FBI’s reports have identified the source of the live ammunition. Seth Kinney and his Albuquerque-based company PDQ Arm & Prop were the main suppliers of weapons and ammunition for the film, but Kinney told The Times he did not supply live ammunition.
Does the New Mexico Occupational Safety Department weigh in?
The New Mexico Office of Occupational Safety and Health issued a scathing rebuke to the directors of the “Rust” movie in April, imposing a fine of $136,793 for safety violations that led to Hutchins’ death, saying the directors “displayed apparent disregard” for the safety of employees on the film’s set. . .
“This is a complete failure on the part of an employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe,” said James Kenney, New Mexico’s cabinet secretary for the environment at the time.
The producers, through Rust Movie Productions LLC, have denied any wrongdoing, and the case is in the appeals process. A government committee has scheduled an eight-day hearing on the matter in April.
Who are the other producers?
In addition to Baldwin, there were five other producers: Ryan Smith, Nathan Klinger, Ryan Winterstern, Matt Delpiano, and Angul Nigam. Smith, through his production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, was primarily responsible for day-to-day operations, according to a lawsuit filed by Baldwin.
Why did the Hutchins family settle their lawsuit?
Hutchins’ widower, Matthew Hutchins, sued Baldwin and other producers in February 2022, blaming the tragedy on cost-cutting measures and reckless behavior by Baldwin and crew members, including hiring inexperienced workers and ignoring safety concerns expressed during production of Before the camera crew operators.
In October, the family reached a temporary settlement with Baldwin and other producers. Terms were not disclosed.
As part of the settlement, husband Matthew Hutchins said he would serve as an executive producer on the production.
“I have no interest in engaging in tit-for-tat or blaming (on the producers or Mr. Baldwin),” Matthew Hutchins said at the time. “We all think Halina’s death was a terrible accident.”
Will “Rust” continue to be made?
Production managers were looking to assign crew members to resume production near Los Angeles, but the decision was controversial. If the district attorney files charges against Baldwin, that could certainly complicate the production schedule.
Times staff writer Anousha Saqvi contributed to this report.